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City didn’t remove your snow? You still need to shovel to avoid liability (or fines)

By: Lisa Coxon on February 28, 2019

A few weeks ago, after one of the now-many snowstorms Toronto has endured this winter, there was a notice inside my mailbox from the city. It was a snow removal warning that said the sidewalk outside my apartment (inside a three-storey home I share with several other tenants) was inadequately cleared of snow and ice. The city would be back within 12 hours, it said, for a second inspection. If no action was taken, we could face fines.

Since I’m just a tenant, that fine would technically fall mostly to my landlord. But it still surprised me—perhaps naively—that it was up to my landlord, myself, or any of the other tenants to shovel the sidewalk at all. I didn’t realize that, being in the Bloor and Ossington area, I live in one of the many areas of Toronto where “the vast majority of sidewalks cannot be ploughed.” The city says this is because these sidewalks don’t meet its clearing criteria. The critics say it’s thanks to outdated pre-amalgamation bylaws, where the suburbs had sidewalks ploughed and Old Toronto didn’t. Whatever the reason, it’s up to residents in this wide swath of neighbourhoods to make sure that these walkways are safe.

This can be frustrating — especially when you try to take a plastic shovel to straight ice — but it’s actually in your best interest to pick up that shovel. Because if someone slips and injures themselves outside your residence, you could be liable. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), residents and business owners could be held liable for “slips, trips and falls if you don’t provide a reasonable standard of care in keeping your property free from hazards.”

So if the city won’t clear your sidewalks of snow and ice, you better do it yourself.

If someone were to slip and fall outside your property and sustain injuries, they could sue you. If, like me, you’re a tenant living in someone else’s property, then IBC says you might actually have to share the liability with your landlord. This would depend on a number of things, including whether or not the danger (e.g. the snowy/icy sidewalk) was foreseeable, could have been prevented, existed for an “unreasonable amount of time,” or whether the homeowner acted within “acceptable standards of practice.”

The City of Toronto has really been dumped on this winter. We’ve had snow, freezing rain, ice pellets, strong winds, more snow, and more freezing rain. And residents have been expressing their unhappiness with the lack of proper cleanup by the city.

A Forum Research Poll released Wednesday revealed that one in two Torontonians are not satisfied with the city’s sidewalk snow-removal services — a big increase compared to previous years. According to the Toronto Star, which looked at 311 data, complaints about snow removal and salting are up 185% from last year between the period of Jan. 1 and Feb 19.

“When the City is not able to clear public sidewalks within 12 hours of snowfall, property owners are responsible to clear public sidewalks adjacent to their property within 12 hours of snowfall,” the city states on its website.

In fact, according to a city bylaw, you’ve got a time limit on when it needs to be done by: 12 hours of snowfall. The fine for not clearing snow from a private property is $570 and $125 for not clearing it from a public one.

No fines were laid in my case, but I did receive an email from my landlord that snowy night asking if I could go help shovel, since he was out the province. Once he was alerted of the city’s warning, he did his part to ensure the sidewalk was safe that night, and so I put my mitts and hat on and went outside to do mine.